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Cleverness and Facebook as the Public Square

I recently held back my finger from the trackpad to avoid posting a comment on someone's Facebook post. It was an old friend who made a comment on how prevalent stories of dragons are in all cultures. He asked, "What is the deal with dragons?" I was going to say, "Don't you know they are just projections of a father figure." A typical cryptic attempt to be clever.

I decided not to post because I realized that I was only posting to be clever. Being clever is one of those things I have taken on as part of my persona. I do it relatively well, and take pride in it even when my cleverness is taken for obtuseness. I was caught this time because I had never posted a comment on this friends status. And, this friend had recently had a scare with a serious illness that turned out to be unfounded. I thought, "How can I use his comment as a springboard for my own cleverness, while I completely ignored his real problems just two weeks ago." While I did say a prayer for him, I did not say anything to him. Holy Spirit had caught me prostrate before my idol.

Back in my seminary days, we once bemoaned the loss of the public square. With the privatization of all things and the complete individualization of Americans as a result of technology, selfishness, and other socio-cultural influences, America has generally lost the sense of a shared public life. One reason is the loss of a shared public space. The public square was once a level playing field where ideas of all kinds could be found.

Perhaps at one time mass media was more on the side of Christians or at least cultural conservatives, so the loss of the public square was not such a loss. However, with Christianity and religion in general increasingly alienated from public discourse, people of faith began to be keenly aware of this loss.

Penguins in the Desert

Imagine that you heard of a plan, a secret plan, by various governments in league with Muslim terrorists to establish a beach-head in your region for the military overthrow of the United States. Imagine that when you heard this plan, you believed it, but you didn't think about the consequences. Perhaps you were too young or naive to really get it. You just thought of it as your current life with some different leaders. However, the more you learned about the plan the more you began to understand that this would really change your life.

In the mean time, you have gotten married, had children, and begun to live what most considered a normal life. You bought a house, cars, and other things. You went to church, you went to parties, you worked, you watched TV. You did everything you needed to succeed. You began to teach your children not just by your action and pattern of life how to succeed. However, you began to realize that the world your children would live in, would not be your own.

You gradually began to see that possibly within your own lifetime the contours of a successful life might radically change. The next world was not going to be a world of peace and prosperity for people like you. As you looked around, you began to see, because of your own anxiety, people whom this world treads under foot. Did you want your children to be these people? What was it that caused these people to be so unable to achieve success in this world? You understood that among other things, their parents did not adequately prepare them for "the way the world works."

They were not taught to work hard. They were not disciplined when it came to deferring gratification. It was also true that they did not receive an adequate education and that their parents allowed them to engage in foolish and self-destructive behavior from an age when no one would have known better on their own. Finally, these people seemed to not understand the protocols of proper social interactions. They were rude, they were poorly dressed, they said the wrong thing at the wrong time. It was as if you could see children at the time that they are born as starting at various depths in an ocean and their parents either pushing them toward the surface where life and breath were or dropping their children to slowly sink under the weight of their poor preparation. Finally, you saw others where parents were actually chaining great weights around their necks.

You began to realize not only are you very similar to these disenfranchised masses, but that your children are not unlike them. You, in fact, are now in the position as the parent and not the baby. You are the one who prepares for life or death. Not only this, but, you are preparing your child for a life in water, and your children may very well live on land.

You began to realize that you might be unwittingly contributing to your children's demise by preparing them for a world in which they would not live. You began to imagine your children as penguins on land running from lions. And, in a moment of clarity you begin to see not only your children but you, your neighbors, friends, co-workers, and fellow parishioners swimming in the desert. In order to prepare your children and possibly yourself for the coming change you would have to abandon your current values. To survive in a totalitarian regime, one would need to develop a cut-throat ethic. The world would no-doubt be a violent world with much suffering. How could you teach your children about this world while going to weekly birthday parties and frequent trips to Inflatable Fun Land?

How do you make the choices necessary to live in two largely incompatible worlds at once?

Primary Locus of Identity

For a long, long time, I have been moved by the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10. Jesus tells Martha that Mary has found the one thing that is necessary and it is the one thing that will last. I have ruminated over what it means to live for one thing.

There are examples of people that live such lives. Soldiers and athletes come immediately to mind. Since I have been watching 24, I also think of Jack Bauer. These people do not only do one thing. In fact, they do many things, but everything they do relates very clearly even if indirectly to their goal. Some athletes even cross train in other sports in order to improve their performance at their main sport. Soldiers must study, exercise, practice, prepare to fight the enemy.

I wonder how my life looks from above. I wonder if it just looks like a hodgepodge of activities with no real unifying theme. Or, is it unified by some idolatrous principle or just my own pleasure. Unfortunately, I am quite sure that it does not look like a deliberate efficient seeking first of the Kingdom of God.

One reason I believe that I am off track is because I have, along with the church, been sucked into a cultural trend. It is the trend of moving one's primary locus of identity to the individual and away from the community. Much of my angst regarding living for the kingdom alone is due to my own fear and idolatry, but some of my angst over living for one thing is due to the modern American church missing the idea that Christ meant for the Church to be the primary locus of identity for the Christian and moving with the world in addressing man as an individual instead of a member of a community.

My next few posts will explore this idea.

24, Lesbians, and Brokeback Mountain

My dad has recently gotten us hooked on 24. Tonight we are taking a break, but we have watched probably 8 episodes in the last three days. That is a lot for a family that basically doesn't watch TV. In fact, we started watching with the first episode, and I have never even seen an advertisement before that. We are a little behind sometimes. However, there is a benefit. You only end up watching, reading, listening to the best.

One thing that amazes me about today's TV (Ok, we do watch a little) is how complex it is and how expensive it must be to make. I bet some TV episodes cost more to make than most movies 20 years ago. 24 even goes beyond CSI in the variety of camera angles and video editing and processing. In addition, the writing is much better than old series that I watch as a kid like, Hunter or The Fall Guy.

Another way many TV shows are like movies is the way they push the envelope morally. In the first couple of episodes of 24 you see two teenagers having sex (no skin, but you see movement), and you see two lesbians kissing. The latter is especially shocking to me in light of the recent controversy over Brokeback Mountain and the scenes therein. Now, I haven't seen the movie. This is mostly because we watch 95% of our movies on DVD and it only recent was released on DVD. It has been highly recommended by friends and I am curious to evaluate it for myself. I suppose the fact that the love scenes in BBM are between to men make them more shocking, but a TV show with women making out and unmarried teenagers having sex really is no better.

In some sense, I wish the church would shut up for a while with its criticism of worldliness in the world. Part of me feels like we've said enough for a while. I think we'd do better to listen for a while. Reflect on what we hear. Look to the Gospel to see how it answers the questions asked by the world and then present an all-encompassing answer that doesn't sound like a lecture. Why is it that "preaching" has such a negative connotation? If someone says they are "preaching" it is almost universally in the context of them needing to shut up. I don't think Jesus preached.

We should stop being so offensive so that the cross can be an offense. So often we offend because we don't listen or don't really care. When we do, people don't even hear the gospel--there is nothing you can do to commend yourself to God, but God has commended you to himself in Christ. Instead people here, "I am better than you." We offend with statements and attitudes that contrary to the gospel. We would do well to preach the Gospel to ourselves and let the offense soak in and disrupt the sin buried in our own hearts.

Big Rock Candy Mountain

Recently I was listening to the soundtrack of O, Brother, Where art Thou? and heard a very interesting song. The song is entitled The Big Rock Candy Mountain. Basically, it is a hobo ballad about a hobo paradise originally recorded in the 1930's.

It mentions a lake of whisky, streams of alcohol, cigarette trees, jails of tin, policemen with wooden legs, and various other questionable attributes of paradise. It really shocked me to find out that it was written in the '30s.

Even though I reject the typical conservative idea that things have been getting worse since the founding fathers, I am still surprised to find a song like this. About the only vice it doesn't mention is illicit sex. And, supposedly the original version was about luring boys to become hobos only to be abused. It reminds me of Pinocchio, another surprisingly dark piece.

I think we are deceived about the decay of the world because we forget two things. We forget that sin entered the world in Adam and that it has been bad for a very, very long time. This basic sinfulness is always present in every culture no matter how nice it appears on the outside. Secondly, we get wrapped up in our own time and place and forget that God is doing something much bigger than our country and our lifetime.

These confusions are further complicated by the prevalence dispensational premillenialism which teaches that the world will get worse and worse until Armageddon. I believe that it is a misunderstanding of scripture and has been detrimental to the spiritual life of the church. Its rise at the same time as the fundamentalist-modernist controversy served to turn the church inward. This exacerbated the average church-gowers myopic vision of the world.

Only in the past couple of decades is the church emerging. Even still, there are decades of ingrowth to overcome and a lot of bad attitudes toward the church from without. It would do us good to concentrate on the ingrowth first. Unfortunately, many of those that are ingrown are leaders. Only God's spirit to turning the church back to the Gospel and away from its various forms of legalism will save true Christianity in America.

Psuedo-christian legalism is as bad if not worse than pagan hedonism. At a worldly level pseudo-christian religion, it is better, but spiritually, it is worse. It is the religion of the Pharisees, which Christ rejected 2 millennia ago.

Marriage-Dodgers

Courtney and I, along with Courtney's mom, have noticed that women are growing less and less fond of marriage. You might call it the "Sex-in-the-City" effect. Women are waiting later and later to get married. And, more and more women seem to be having children outside of marriage or even outside of a stable relationship with a man.

So, as usual, I am trying to come up with a theory that might help explain this. I believe we can find important clues in Genesis. First of all, I believe that men and women were made for marriage. Genesis 2 is clear that men need women. Women were made to satisfy that need that Adam experienced before Eve was created. It is also clear, then, that women need men. In fact, their satisfaction of their man's need of a "helper suitable" is part of their identity. God reflected this in the way he created man and woman. Man and woman historically have had a relationship of interdependence. Each was suited to a set of particular roles within the family. Society as well reinforced those roles. These functioned as "plausibility structures" for the idea that women really needed to be married to be complete.

However, these plausibility structures have been eroding rapidly since the 1960's. More and more women are highly educated, and the workplace has become very open to women. In addition, society has whole-heartedly accepted the idea of singleness and even single-parenthood. Much of the media encourages people to remain single. Since the idea that being a wife is integral to being a women is less and less plausible, women are reconsidering whether or not the relationship is one that benefits them. Outside of this premise, the answer they are coming to seems to be no at least while they are young.

Part of the curse in Genesis 3 is that women will desire the place and position of their husband, but that he will wrongly use his more dominate position in their relationship. No doubt being married in a fallen world has its problems. Courtney has a counseling degree, and we are both mature Christians and we still struggle to the point of exhaustion at times. It is understandable that someone would want to avoid the situation of having to share everything they have with another selfish human being. Having children is a whole other realm of insanity. The curse on women makes these realities especially poignant for women.

The sad part of this situation is that women will be living more and more unfulfilled lives. That is, they will be living outside the God's design for their lives. For most, this also means living outside the protection of God's laws. And perhaps even worse, more and more men are frustrated that they cannot find a worthy woman for marriage. I think this trend will ultimately feed into the transition of our society to the neo-Victorian society I alluded to in an earlier post. I think it will push men to break out of their doltish habits and return to a manliness that is more in line with godliness. They will reject feminism as a whole, but be reformed by its valid criticisms. And, with better men, women will again begin to see their need for men as intrinsic to their created existence.

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Back to the Future

Courtney and I have a running conversation regarding the growing split between the educated, disciplined, and wealthy and those that are none of these. The gist is that we are on the cusp of a cultural shift. I see the cultural events of the 60's as the apex of cultural ideas that were born around the time of the French Revolution. Like an ocean, these waves have come in and gone out with growing intensity finally washing ashore radical feminism, the sexual revolution, the complete breakdown of the family, extreme individualism, radical capitalism, and complete secularization.

Since the 60's our cultural elites have been seeking to work into the dough of our society the final products of modernism. I believe there are many that are finding these absurd. They are looking back to models of traditional societies, traditional religion, and traditional values. The rise of influence of evangelicals in the political scene is only the beginning. Beneath the surface is brewing a much more radical change.

I believe that even in many secular homes, children are being raised deliberately differently than their parents were raised. They are being raised to value family, creation, and a higher sense of duty to their community. Now cultural change is a gradual process, and usually periods can only be identified in retrospect. However, I think the turn of the millenium will be seen as the move from post-modernism to the retro-victorian era.

I think the children born in the first 10 years of this millineum are going to make a radical difference in this world. I know that I am praying that three of them will. Now it will not be all of the children. Unfortunately, most of the children of this period will receive poor educations. The will develop bad habits of body, spirit, and mind. Many will be verbally abused by their single mothers or sexually by their single mother's boyfriends. It seems obvious to me that our political structures cannot survive this fissure. While I have libertarian leanings, I question how long they will be relevant. The privileged children will have better educations than their poorer counterparts. They will have psycho-social advantages that border on deterministic success guarantees. They will come to dominate every aspect of society. It is really only natural.

They will recognize that with power comes responsibility, and they will seek to be the responsible stabilizing force in society. Those below will welcome it. Gradually, society will morph into a caste system not unlike that before the modern era in western society. The aristocrats will enjoy many privileges, but they will also consider themselves responsible for those below them. The best of them will treat them like their own children. The worst will maintain their serfs with the minimum that is their duty.

Strangely enough, all of this will seem natural. Both the aristocrats and the peasants will begin to see that this is the natural order of things. Rights doled out by class will not be considered unfair. It will be considered just. No doubt there will be instances of jealousy and envy, but as a whole all will accept their place.

Now I will reserve judgement as to whether I think this is a good arrangement. For the most part, I just see this as an inevitable step in western society. To some extent, it is a return to our roots. There is much room for good, and there is much room for evil. I doubt that as a whole this society would be much worse or much better. I believe the most important factor is how Providence chooses to move his children into places of power. Were the Gospel to permeate my future scenario, things could be much better. I will be praying to this end, and that Gage Augustin, Soren Basil, and Pax Athanasius will be tools in the Master's hand as he carves history into the stone tablets of time.

As with most of my theories, I would have a hard time offering anything but antectdotal observations from music, movies, articles and books. But, this is how all great ideas are born. The hard research is what comes next. Maybe someday I will realize my dreams of entering the academy. Until then, I have the benefit of making lots of unsupported assertions.

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Thoughts on cussing

Considering the providential ordering of the topics in the Christian blogosphere and HowItWorks, I have decided to weigh in on the cussing/swearing topic. I'll use cuss instead of swear because it emphasizes my geography. This is in direct rebellion against the tendency of mass media to flatten all regional culture.

DefCon America

I can't remember exactly how I happened on to it, but I recently found the DefCon America website.

I have to say it is pretty sad the way they represent and misrepresent the "religious right."  I am not exactly sure whether or not to personalize it.  I attend a church that is smack dab in the middle of their definition of the religious right, but I would probably not fit their definition completely.  Many of my concerns and views do not precisely align with the religious right.  In addition, I do not espouse the eschatology DefCon so vehemently criticizes.

Where is preaching that challenges heart?

Most of the time when I walk out of church, I speak very little about the sermon from that point forward. I don't think I am alone. Ironically, many at my church think that we have a very good preacher. And, by their measuring stick, I think he is. My stick, however, is how it moves people.

The fact is that he has built a large congregation virtually from scratch. I do not mean to disrespect him by talking so negatively about preaching. One of my favorite preachers, Mike Malone, from St. Paul's PCA in Orlando, had the same problem. Very few people would talk about the sermon after it was over.

Now, Courtney and I are strange, and having noticed this point, try, as much as we can, to discuss the sermon during the remainder of the Sunday. However, we find it very difficult to bring it up with others. It seems that